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2 planes collide midair, plunge into ocean off Los Angeles

  • In this still frame from video provided by KABC-TV, a flotilla of boats search for wreckage from two small planes that collided in midair and plunged into the ocean off of Los Angeles harbor today. (KABC-TV via AP)

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Rescue boats search for wreckage from two small planes that collided in midair and plunged into the ocean off of Los Angeles harbor today in San Pedro, Calif.

  • CHUCK BENNETT/ DAILY BREEZE VIA AP

    U.S. Coast Guard crew members and Los Angeles firefighters investigate two small planes reportedly down off of San Pedro, Calif., today.

LOS ANGELES » Two small planes with three people believed to be aboard collided over the ocean just outside the port of Los Angeles, prompting a massive search by dozens of boats and divers. There was no sign of survivors after hours of searching.

The collision occurred about 3:30 p.m. Friday on a dazzlingly sunny day, the Coast Guard said, with no immediate word on what might have caused it.

Two men ages 61 and 81 were aboard one plane, and a 72-year-old woman was aboard the other plane, Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams said.

Searchers found wreckage, including a pilot’s logbook, from the Beechcraft plane that was carrying the two men.

The plane flown by the woman is missing, and air traffic controllers saw two aircraft apparently run into each other on radar, leading authorities to conclude they must have collided.

Both planes had taken off from the nearby Torrance Airport, and both pilots were experienced, Williams said.

The search for wreckage and possible survivors over a 200-square-mile area is expected to continue through the night with helicopters and boats, with a more extensive search resuming Saturday.

“We don’t want to give up until we really feel that there’s no chance,” Williams said, “that we haven’t scanned the area, searched the whole area and looked for survivors.”

The area of the collision is about two miles outside the entrance to the harbor, where water depths were 80 feet to 90 feet.

The nearest harbor entrance was closed to traffic while the search continued.

The crash site was near the Angels Gate light, a lighthouse at the San Pedro Breakwater that is on the National Register of Historic Places. The area is popular for flight students.

Richard Garnett, chief flight instructor with the Long Beach Flying Club, said the pilots practice in an area that is 10 to 20 square miles and at altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 feet. On a typical day, there will be three or four planes in the air at the same time.

“So with the amount of activity, actually, I think we’ve been fortunate,” he said. “We are really diligent. I don’t know why, what happened in this situation.”

Friday’s midair collision was not the first in the area.

In 2001, four people died when two Cessna airplanes carrying instructors and students collided 1,000 feet above the harbor.

In 1986, two small planes flown by students collided. But the aircraft managed to return to their airports, and the four people on board escaped injury.

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Associated Press writer Christine Armario in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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